“The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.” ~ Bruce Nauman
Although I’d been an art major in college — mostly painting and drawing — I became discouraged with it shortly after graduation and gave it up. I was living with my family on Long Island at the time and for some while afterwards I still visited the New York art galleries, making regular tours of the Whitney, the Guggenheim and the Modern.
What finally got me out of art was the whole directionlessness of it all. No one seemed to know what art was about any more. DuChamp started it, of course, with his Readymades. It took the rest of the world a half century to catch on. Everything was art, the critics were saying. For myself, their steel-firm logic stubbornly taunted everything I’d built my life around, leaving me creatively disabled, impotent, and broken down. In the end, I became the essence of minimalism, and ceased to exist.
After leaving Long Island in 197-, I knocked about various parts of the midwest until by some circuitous route I ended up in Minnesota. I hadn’t been to an art gallery in nearly ten years when I finally decided, while living here in Minneapolis, that I should check out the Walker. By chance I had picked up some Twin Cities rag and saw mention of a show that included new work by Les Garnet, with whom I had shared a studio at Tyler where I’d gone to school in Philadelphia. Les was a small town Ohio hick who back in ’72 got mesmerized by the Big Apple and turned freak, getting his hair kinked, wearing snakeskin boots and finding his way into the weird world of fashion design. On the side, he maintained a loft in SoHo, which was fashionable at the time, and began doing a lot of work with sprayers.
I remember how Les kept saying he hated the city and would one day get a farm in the country, but the review of his current show gave every indication that he and Kyle Benders — it was a joint show — were New Yorkers through and through. The review referred to Garnet and Benders as being in the forefront of New York’s “New Breed Movement.” Their work was described as “serious” and “provocative.” The reviewer went on to praise their “refusal to compromise when dealing with the real issues of our time.” Mention was also made of the “myopic vision of our age.”
Was this the same Les Garnet with whom I had painted at Tyler? I kicked myself for missing the opening — he surely would have been there — yet I looked forward with eagerness to visiting the exhibition of Les’ work as soon as possible nonetheless. I decided I would explore the Walker that following Sunday and experience first hand the hottest new trends in modern art.
Sunday afternoon. As I casually made my way through the Walker, I was impressed by the well-represented selection of Modern works, including pieces by nearly all the “names” of our century. The Chuck Close piece was strikingly placed. A prominent Frankenthaler, somber Rothkos, a colorful Morris Louis, some Pop art and kitsch by Lichtenstein and Warhol, pieces by Albers, Poons, Rauschenburg — all these marvelous pieces hanging out together like an old gang.
They left their mark on all of us, the young painters who flowed through art schools in search of answers to the Big Q, “What is Art?” These are those who provided versions of the answer, annotated, up-dated, and outmoded, inebriating us with infra-maddening inferences, delicious anti-art sentiments, and godlike gestures; fanciful creations that were probably not always authentic in their pretensions. So be it. I drank of that well and, for a time, it satisfied.
Had I not been seeking it, I may not have found the New Breed show at all, as it had been tucked away in a special gallery on another floor at the top of an unmarked flight of stairs. No doubt this would explain why there was no one else present to witness or experience what I was about to witness.
Entering the gallery, I noticed a small holder stuffed with silver brochures and I took one.
— Imitation Reality —
A Preview of Recent Works
by Kyle Benders and Les Garnet
The Walker Museum of Fine Arts
in conjunction with the
“Best of Show” Modern Arts Series
Itself a very attractive piece, this silver chrome-kote brochure radiated slick sophistication, with its blazing blood red letters laying down the challenge, Imitation Reality, implying there’s more here than meets the eye. I was ready. Still, I’ve never understood how the critics, the press and the galleries could take these guys so seriously.
Then I saw their work.
The first thing to capture my attention upon entering, on a wall directly opposite from where I’d been standing, was a series of eight or ten large framed pieces which gave the appearance of being the most grotesque color enlargements from a medical encyclopedia, body parts with the skin removed, infected with cancerous tumors but somehow distorted. The images were super-realistic, as if actual photographs, though the legend stated they were mixed media and non-representational. Title for the series: “Man’s Essence in the Age of Science.”
I turned away and chose to find something else to dwell on.
There were a number of small paintings on the wall behind me and a number of unusual three dimensional constructions in various sections of the room. To my left there was a very large painting that was obviously Les’ work, but before losing myself in it I was tantalized by the holographic image that had been set before it. On a thick patch of lush grass knelt a life-sized image of a woman, a woman in motion, removing her robe in the most provocative way imaginable. She was kneeling with her back to the room so that one had to walk around to her other side to really see what men long to see, but as soon as I began to walk alongside her, she drew the robe back up over her shoulders and modestly bowed her head.
The holographic scene was absolutely stunning in its effect and I walked around it twice to see if there were any way to gain access to some secret vision, and failing. I couldn’t imagine how it was done. When I walked behind her, she slid the robe off her shoulders again and was about to let it drop. Yet when I stepped again to her side, she once more began pulling the robe back up over her shoulders.
The whole scene left me both amazed and amused at the clever use to which modern technology had been put in this provocative demonstration.
When I at last turned, I found myself standing beneath and before an exceptionally large canvas titled “The Light” and I saw what it was before which this woman was kneeling, unveiling herself.
From a distance the painting appeared orderly and actually restful to the eye. It was a yantra of sorts, a focus for meditation in which one stills the mind by becoming absorbed in its balance and symmetry. On closer inspection, from my new position between the woman and the wall, the painting was an incredibly detailed and graphic reproduction of scenes of sexual perversion and unspeakable violence, crushed together in a horrifying vision of hell. But these images of cruelty and ugliness — painted beautifully, I might add — which fanned out across the canvas were not the primary focus of the painting; rather, they were obstacles hiding from view the primary theme: behind all darkness there is light. Ultimately, it was light which illuminated these scenes of degradation and brutality, a light that was hidden by these same scenes, though from a distance one could see gleams of that brilliance breaking out from its hiding place beyond the wall of corporeal images crammed into this immense space.
While staring at this awesome painting, which filled nearly a whole wall, I wondered how long it had taken Les to paint such a volume of detail. Only the drivenness of obsession could propel a man to produce this kind of work.
Just then, a jogger in a grey T-shirt and red shorts walked in through the main gallery door. I had been alone for some several minutes at this point, so he startled me. And he, being unaware of me, breathing heavily and wiping his forehead, cheeks and neck with a bunched up hand towel, strode past me on his way through the center aisle of the room. His sweat-soaked T-shirt clung to him. I guessed that he’d just finished a lengthy jaunt around the lakes and came in here to cool off. His vacant-eyed head bobbed as he walked, hanging forward with bushy black brows too full for his thin, slack-jawed face. I could feel his fatigue as he ambled through the pristine corridors of the Walker.
As the jogger approached the far end of the room, three men emerged from the double doors there. The jogger stopped when he saw them and responded as if he knew them. I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
The smallest of these men squared off with the jogger in a half jest sort of way as if to box, like old school chums do upon meeting. Next, the guy started poking at the jogger, once or twice reaching out and pinching his leg, then slapping him lightly.
Suddenly, they were all over him, grabbing him and bringing him down. The one man was a huge, bull-necked kind of guy, all bronzed and enormous like a Turkish bouncer. The jogger writhed, making desperate spasmodic efforts to escape. They shoved the hand towel in his mouth as a gag and while the other two held him down, the Turk began twisting his foot. The jogger moaned in anquish.
Waves of panic shot through me as I realized I should do something. Should I run to get help? Then I became confused. Was this even real? Or was it some kind of performance piece, like the three dimensional woman who appeared to be disrobing there beside me? “Challenging our sensibilities”… “new level of intensity”… I stood dumbstruck; I didn’t know what to do.
The Turk now had the leg sideways. A crackling sound of breaking bone echoed through the gallery and the agitated jogger went berserk. Wriggling his good leg free, he crashed it into the biggest guy’s side, without result. Quickly the other two brought the loose limb under control and continued their torture.
I was walking toward them now, walking the length of the room until I was standing over them, close enough to touch them, and they didn’t even notice me, as if I were invisible, a mute phantom eavesdropper.
Their faces were serious, businesslike. They worked quickly, not frenzied. One of the two smaller men, a man wearing a green army jacket, perspired slightly. Glancing up he caught a nod from the Turk and pulled out a knife, which he flipped open with a click.
At this, the jogger was in fits. His left leg had been broken and was pushed forward, perpindicular to the floor, the foot twisted around backward, everything all wrong and stupid and unbelievable and sickening.
The Turk shoved the knife into the side of the knee and with quick jerking movements severed the kneecap on three sides. Grabbing the dangling kneecap in his fist he pulled it away from the leg and, with a twist, wrenched it from its place, leaving a gaping hole, torn tendons and bloodied flesh. Immediately, like rodeo cowboys who have just finished branding a terrified calf, the three men leapt to their feet. As if on cue, all three shot glances in my direction, then turned and bounded from the room, leaving me alone in the gallery with the jogger, who was lying on the floor at my feet, his head arched back, arms and hands convulsing at his sides, the leg flopping now, pathetic and strange.
Evidently a guard who heard the commotion had run to call the police. An ambulance had been called while others from The Walker rushed about to help administer first aid to the violated man. When the police finally arrived, I was seated in the stairwell, staring with unfocused eyes, my hands fastened to the handrail.
It is evening and I have been changed. I’m sitting in a chair, listening to music, recording my thoughts, trying to get in touch with my pain, trying to find a way to get inside myself. I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve witnessed a terrible thing and I can’t dismiss it. Why didn’t I do anything? I want to excuse myself and I can’t. Why did I just watch? Why didn’t I scream? Or run for help? Or try to stop them?
What bothers me most is that I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything.
My head aches. Too much vodka. I don’t really like to drink like this. I’ve never enjoyed the headaches. It’s a foolish way to deal with pain. I could use a shot of novacaine for my head. Where’s our local pusher when you need him?
I woke at four, jingled and jangling, and my face corrugated with the pattern of the couch cushions and this godawful headache and sickness, chills and heat all playing over me. I should have allowed myself the luxury of vomiting just to get the poison out of my system, but the sickness had to do its work.
Weary and spent, I stumbled around in my house, my brain collapsing in upon itself. How much liquor had I drowned myself in? Too much.
In my longing for balance and emotional equillibrium I at this point made my decision to return to the gallery. It’s almost as if I were creating for myself a mission, to reconstruct something and to reconcile myself to it.
I remember when we were in school together how Les Garnet used to tell me he was on a mission. “Michael, my man,” he’d say, like a patronizing old philosophy professor, “Death now rules the world.” (with the accent on Death) “I mean that. We’re dead. All of us. Have you never noticed how nothing shocks us anymore? Nietzche told us God was dead, but I say we all got buried at the same funeral.”
I laughed when he talked like this. We were usually pretty stoned and I couldn’t take him seriously. It always seemed as if he were practicing on me. The fact that he never seemed to mind my laughing caused me to be unsure as to how seriously he took it all himself.
One night we were at the student union slouched over pitchers of beer. His mission, he said, was to be the little boy in that fairy tale about the king’s new clothes. “We’re dead, and we don’t even know it. Our lives are a quest, a quest for evidence — somewhere, anywhere — for some evidence that we really exist. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”
“Frankl talks about man’s search for meaning,” I said that night.
“Meaning! I’m talking about existence. Meaning is secondary, my friend. Believe me, I’d settle for meaninglessness any day. But existence. What is existence? What is life?”
“Does it really matter?” I said.
“You’re living in a dream, my friend. The future is nothing but what you hope will be. And the past is gone. All you have is the present, and you know what? Even the present is past by the time you experience it. I speak, and you hear me only after the sound waves cross a chasm of space and time so that even while I address you now, you only hear what has already faded into the emptiness of the past. It might as well have been yesterday. And how can you prove last week?”
“I have a friend. His name is Memory,” I said.
“He’s a deceptive bugger, too. Visit a madhouse sometime.”
So it’s now fifteen years later and my old friend, Memory, unpredictable as he is, starts popping all these recollections of the youthful Les Garnet into my head. Other memories, too, have been flung forward, chief of these being his abrasive shoulder rubbing and ego fondling of various university faculty. Yes, he was zealous on the score, too. I say abrasive only because I came from the old school that believed talent alone should be enough to pave one’s road to recognition. All his public relations and ass-stroking rankled me to such an extent that in the end it split me off from the entourage that surrounded him. He had an enamored following, even then. And it seemed for a season that I may have become one of his best friends, though in the end that egg-sucking style he adopted to achieve his ultimate ends finally so disgusted me that I wrote him off.
Sensing my aggravation, Les attempted to make amends. Instead, I got mean. “You have no concept of originality, Les. I’m talking less than zero. Even as a copycat you’re second rate. You know damned well there’s absolutely nothing you’ve ever produced that’s anything but totally derivative.”
This was at a party, and he was floored by it, having been caught totally unguarded. An hour later a guy we called Roman (real name, Tom Bormann) told me he had discovered Les down in the basement weeping in the dark and wondered if I knew what was up. I shrugged, said I was at a loss, and played cool. Cool, like a dead body at a wake. In that moment I was so mean it scares me to think about it. It had never been my style, and here I was taking a cut at my best friend, cutting him so bad his heart was shredded and bleeding right there beneath my feet. Yet, to my shame, I was totally unmoved.
I remember these things and wonder if I’m not watching someone else’s life.
These were my thoughts as I left my car and began walking the two block hike to the Walker. It was late morning, the day after the assault. A steamy breeze whooshing through the shrubbery and trees blended with the traffic on Hennepin Avenue to create a white noise backdrop against which my memories performed. The headache remained lodged behind my eyeballs.
Once inside the Walker I was struck by how utterly different my experience of this museum was from the previous day. Was it only yesterday I was here?
First, the people were different. I looked at them differently, wondering to myself, “What if it had been her?” and “What if he had been the unlucky one?” What were these people thinking? What did they know about the thing that happened? Were they even aware of it? I found myself studying their faces for clues.
A middle aged man with a fat black mustache looked at me suspiciously and I became conscious of how different I was from the rest of these people. The thing I experienced has stained me.
The art today is different, too. The famous paintings are as wallpaper that has no attraction whatsoever now as I walk past them on my way to Gallery 7. The Chuck Close piece gives me a start when I round that corner there, but as for the rest, it may as well be beige on beige.
I make the assumption that this is a temporary feeling. Then again, one never knows.
So I experienced the Walker differently this second time through, having been immunized against those very images that one day previous induced catalytic tremors in my soul.
I understand now why criminals return to the scene of the crime. It is not simply to see if there have been clues left behind. No, it’s more than that. They return to reconcile themselves to the reality of horror. There has been violence, created and experienced, and they return to pay homage — in disbelief and in awe. Not a conscious homage, but in that same emotional vein. Will the blood stains still be there?
As I climbed the stairs leading to the Garnet/Benders show, the muffled sounds of happy conversation reached me through the closed door of the gallery. The moment I touched the handle, the door flew open, revealing a man in his mid-thirties with rolling waves of thick dark hair, dark eyes and wide, fat lips. He wore the eager look of a Little Leaguer on his way to the Dairy Queen after a big win. He turned to say something to someone standing inside the gallery out of my view.
The man inside cut him off. “The photographer will be here at two. Be back by one-thirty so we can go over a couple things.”
“Sounds like a plan,” the wavy haired fellow said, and he hustled off across the landing and through a door on the other side.
I passed the silver brochures, but left them untouched as I entered. Two men were standing close together, talking energetically. The shorter man, wearing a nappy blue sport coat with a neatly folded, pink silk handkerchief peeking from his breast pocket, lowered his voice as soon as he sensed my presence before them. The other I recognized immediately as Les.
I felt strange again. Was it the gallery having this effect on me? I wanted to speak, to call his name, but I was once more incapable of speech and stood there watching them as if at the theater, their sole purpose being to entertain me.
At last they ceased from their discussion to stare at me. Les squinted and then opened his mouth, corners curling up to form a strange and uncertain smile. “Mike?”
He laughed heartily at my speechlessness, then stretched toward me his open hand. “Mike!”
Instead of a handshake, it’s a great bear hug, and though my own response was lame, he didn’t take notice of it. “I had no idea you were in Minneapolis. My God! What’s it been, fifteen years? At least!”
The other man graciously disengaged himself from our circle and said, “I’ll be back at one. Let me know if you need anything, Les.”
Les acknowledged him with a nod and returned his gaze to me.
“You still making art?”
“Not really,” I said.
His face registered surprise. “You were always such a True Believer. Art before everything, you always said.”
“I used to say that,” I admitted.
For the next ten minutes, Les kept asking about what I have been doing and couldn’t believe I’d given it all up. I kept wanting to tell him to lay off. He could read it in my face. “You’ve always taken it all so serious,” Les said, as if summarizing my whole life.
Two middle aged couples entered the gallery while we were talking and one of the women began reacting disgustedly at the large pictures on the far wall. “Oh, how gross,” she kept saying in a loud voice while the others stifled their laughter.
Les and I slowly walked to another part of the room. He looked me in the face, “How do you feel about what happened yesterday?”
I didn’t know what to say, but it was the subject we both wanted to discuss, though I can see now that he, like myself, had not wanted to appear too eager.
“Can I let you in on something?” Les began. “This is absolutely hush, see. Kyle would kill me if he found I’d blown off about this with someone outside the team.”
I lit a cigarette and Les continued.
“The whole thing was planned, you see, as part of the show’s promotion.”
“Yes, but — “
“Don’t be shocked. Oh, lighten up.”
“But that could have been me?”
“Was it you? Turns out all right then, eh?”
“Not for the other guy.”
“Ach! The world is full of this stuff. It’s either this or a car accident or, twenty years from now, a stroke. Come on, get real. We made national news!” He slapped me on the shoulder as he said this, his eyes blazing.
“It still could have been me.”
With a shrug, “Mike, listen. The rules have changed. Nobody cares how you get to the top anymore. You gotta write your own ticket. This is great stuff and we’re going to be very famous now.”
“Les, — “
“Come on, old man, get off it. You’re thinking like a hick. God, I can’t believe how much you’ve changed. And people laughed because they thought I was a hick.”
We were standing in a corner of the exhibit that I hadn’t noticed the day before. A bronze pedestal displayed an assortment of bones. Human bones. Specifically, knee caps. A small tag identified the piece. “The Essence of Religion.”
With a hushed voice, Les said, “You know, it’s a word game… They prey on knees… See? Connections… word play. It’s a game.”
My mouth was hanging open stupidly.
“Don’t look so shocked.”
“This is craziness. Somebody should lock you guys up,” I said, meaning men in white suits.
His head tilted to one side, as if he were straining to understand fragments of a foreign language. “So what is it you’re trying to say? You plan to talk to the police now? You said you already made a statement.”
“I don’t know. What you guys are doing just isn’t right.”
“It happens all the time. What planet did you say you come from?”
“Les, listen. You can’t go around mutilating innocent people.”
“The rain falls on the just and the unjust. You got lucky. He didn’t. You know the guy?”
“That’s got nothing to do with anything Les. For God’s sake, are you mad?” The whole line of argument disgusted me.
“Whoa! Easy now. You don’t think we enjoy seeing people suffer now, do you?”
“Coulda fooled me,” I said with considerable difficulty.
“For all you know the guy’s an embezzler or he’s an adulterer or worse, maybe some kind of pervert, and this whole thing is an act of Providence.”
“Please, don’t start — “ I could see where this line was going, but he cut me off, insisting on making his point.
“The guy probably deserved it.”
“Maybe he’s a good family type. Has a wife and kids. A provider.”
“No one is so good they aren’t guilty of something. The Bible is full of stuff like that.”
I could feel my jaws tightening, my teeth clenching and unclenching.
Les went on: “Somewhere it says, `There is none righteous. No, not one.’ And then there’s that fundamentalist favorite, ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’”
“But you don’t believe any of it. You’re blowing smoke. Making excuses for being a… a…” I threw my arms up and turned away from him.
“Lighten up, man. Why do you take it all so serious?”
I stood looking about the gallery with my hands buried in my pockets.
“Say, you know that guy I was talking to when you came in, the guy with the blue sport coat?”
“Name’s Paul. He’s the one who made it happen in a lot of ways. I mean, it’s our show, but he’s really been the one to encourage us, you know. He’s helped us ‘get bold’,” Les made quote marks in the air with his fingers, “if you know what I mean.”
It hardly seemed to matter whether I knew what he meant. The only thing of importance was what I would do about the thing I had seen. Which is why Paul had now become part of our conversation.
“You see,” Les continued, “Paul did some research for us and — now don’t be alarmed, but it was a just in case kind of thing, see, and — we need to cover the bases and all so Paul did a background check to see whether the witness had a wife and kids or anything. Well, you really had us worried, being single and all that, but we know you care about your mom a lot. She’s still living on Long Island, which is good.”
It took me a while to see where this was all going. When it became clear they were willing to blackmail me to keep my mouth shut I turned and headed for the door. I walked fast, but Les followed on my heels, panting and laughing. He grabbed hold of my arm but I shook him off. That Les Garnet was possessed by devils I now had no doubt.
“Mike. Mike!” Les called, but I closed him out and was determined to keep it that way. An hour later, when I came to myself again, I was parked alongside one of the lakes, staring at the ducks out on the water.
Suddenly I understood my behavior in the gallery the day before. I don’t think I am simply justifying myself by saying I thought it was staged, that it appeared to be an event piece of some kind. Believing All was Art — in the context of the Walker this was a legitimate leap of faith — I accepted the terrorism not on the inhuman level at which it was enacted, but as an aesthetic expression. I was, therefore, witnessing Art, not life. The great sin would have been to intervene.
This was the world Les, and others like him, had created. Now that he was a god, now that he could create his own rules, his own ethic, I knew what I had to do. I would return to the Gallery to pay tribute to his god. I would become an artist again.
In my artist days, in my youth, I had adopted as my philosophy the concept that each day’s work should be the most significant statement of one’s life. Our daily bread, the sustenance of our souls, came from outdoing ourselves on this daily basis — a delicious morsel of personal satisfaction when we succeeded; despondency when we fell short.
It was inevitable that this should be my undoing. As days of despondency became more numerous, it was evident I had stretched to my limit, or at least as far as I dared.
Les had dared go further and it aroused something in me. A surge of blood and steel filled my veins, and along with it an ambition to break new ground.
Don Ballentine has a thing about guns. Always has. He lives in the apartment across from mine. It’s not a great place, the kind of building that attracts long term residents who don’t have high ambitions, but the rent is reasonable and the management is pretty good about keeping coke heads and pimps out of the building. There are a few strange people here, but it’s like family and we stick up for one another in a pinch.
Don’s a stocky, barrel-chested guy who is just a little crazy so that he’s unpredictable, which scares people because he has a thing about guns. That’s what he’s into. Shooting them. Swapping them. Cleaning them. Buying and selling them. At one time he had more than twenty he says (and sometimes when he’s drinking he says “more than thirty”) but he had to sell most of them when he went through a spell without work during the last recession. For Don, the guns are an investment, an investment that appreciates better than money in the bank, he says.
That evening when he stumbled in I went over and asked him to teach me a little something about guns.
“What you got in mind, dude?”
I said I was thinking of writing a story and I wanted to make sure my details were accurate.
“There’s nothing I hate more than when you’re watching a movie or reading something and, damn, you know they don’t know anything about guns.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” I said, walking back toward the gun rack in his bedroom. “So, tell me about your rifles here.” Then I waited.
“Oh, you want me to begin? This top one’s a Model 70 Winchester 270 caliber. That’s a bolt action, five shot rifle. You manually operate the bolt each time. It shoots bullets from 120 grain to 170 grain, if that means anything to you.”
“Grains is — “
“How much the bullet weighs.”
“That’s not how much quantity of shot — “
“No, that’s how much the bullet weighs. Bullet grain is the weight of the bullet.”
“What’s --” before I completed my question, he was there finishing my thought again.
“2 to 7 Redfield Scope on there. 2 to 7 variable power.”
“And if you’re going to shoot somebody from pretty close range, you really don’t need to use the scope, right?”
“You do on that gun because there are no iron sights on it. So you use the scope, but you’d be down on two power.”
“What’s the range on a gun like that?”
“If you know how to use the weapon you could shoot somebody at a thousand yards,” he said. “If you know the capabilities of the weapon. Even a novice could shoot a person at three hundred yards.”
“O.K. What’s this one here?”
“That’s also a bolt action. A Remington 700 Classic, 6 millimeter Remington.”
“And this one?”
“That’s a 22.”
“That’s a pretty rifle.”
“That’s about a fifty dollar gun.”
“Really! What do you do with it?”
“Plink. Rabbit hunt. Shoot cans. That’s just a plinking rifle.”
“If you shot a person with a twenty-two?”
“Go ask Jim Brady.”
“It’s barely adequate for rabbits. But well placed it’ll kill a human, or even a deer. But the shot has to be perfect.”
“This is… a shotgun,” I said.
“That’s my trap shooting gun.”
“Are none of these shotguns?”
He pointed at the trap shooting rifle and the one below it as he said, “Shotgun, shotgun. My hunting and my trap shotgun.”
“What’s the difference between these two in terms of what they can do?”
“In terms of what they can do? Nothing. In terms of price? A lot. A trap gun is just a real fancy, well-made… shotgun.”
“It’s very nice. What’s a gun like this cost?”
“About a thousand bucks.”
“That’s quite an investment.”
He smiled. “Yes, and it is an investment because you never lose money on a gun like that. It’ll be worth more every year than what I paid for it.”
“If you shot somebody with this gun right here, what would happen?” I was pointing at the shotgun.
“Ten yards or less, which would be thirty feet or less, you’d blow the hell out of him. I mean bad. You’d have a mess. Big time.”
“This sounds like the gun I’d want to use. How much power does it have? Tell me a little bit more about it.”
“It shoots anywhere from a one ounce charge of shots to an ounce and seven eighths. A one ounce charge is a lot of weight compared to any rifle you shoot. There’s a lot of mass coming out there and it does a lot of damage. It’s a lot slower, but at close range, it’s devastating.”
“It would be ugly.”
“Yeah. It would be ugly.”
“Suppose you shot a guy at, say, like fifteen feet.”
“Blow his head off. It would blow his head apart.” Long pause. “It would do an extreme amount of damage. It would be a concentration of shot in an area not much more than the size of a belt buckle.”
We talked for a while about his other guns and then guns in general, and as we talked the choice became clear.
“A pistol would work if the guy is an experienced shooter.” he said.
“But he’s not,” I said.
“Then it’s going to be a shotgun.”
“So where does he go to buy a shotgun.”
“That’s another good part for your story because it’s real easy to buy a shotgun. You can buy a nice shotgun right at K-Mart.”
Only once in my life had I ever fired a gun. I barely know the terminology. So for me it was quite an experience to be asking the salesman in the Sporting Goods section at K-Mart if he could help me pick out a shotgun.
“What are you planning to use if for?” the man behind the counter asked innocently enough.
“Actually, I’m an artist.”
“Oh?” he said, arching his eyebrows.
It seemed like no time at all and I was walking to my car with a 12-gauge shotgun and a box of shells.
Back at my apartment it only took two calls to get hold of Les on the phone. I told him how his work had made an impact on me, so much so that I was thinking of getting back into art, thinking of becoming an artist again. He was thrilled. When I asked if we could meet one more time before he left town, he suggested that evening, eight o’clock at the Walker, if it was convenient for me. I said it would be perfect.
The four hours have passed quickly. I remember again that feeling. Art is a feeling, not simply an act, and in some deeply personal way a longing for transcendence.
As I load my rifle, Les’ remark about the jogger’s misfortune being an act of Providence has recurred to me and I can’t help but be comforted by it.
I’m ready now for our rendezvous.
Originally published at ennyman.com
Illustrations on this page created by the author.